There has been a great deal written about the dignity of work, and rightly so. The following is adapted from Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission (©2011, David B. Doty – pending publication under contract to Wipf & Stock Publishers of Eugene, Oregon).
“Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate (`abad) it and keep it.” `Abad is an especially poignant word in Scripture. In this passage, it is translated into a variety of familiar terms: to dress (KJV), to cultivate (NAS), to work (NIV), and to till (RSV). According to Strong’s Concordance, `abad means to work but also, by implication, to serve, or to till.
But `abad also carries a sense of worship. In Exodus, `abad is used repeatedly in the dialogs between Moses and Pharoah about Israel going out to the desert to serve the Lord. In Numbers, the Levites served (`abad) in the Tabernacle of Moses.
It is easy to understand this multi-leveled term. Consider ownership retained by an investor who pays wages in return for the labor necessary to fulfill the purposes of the thing owned, whether a field or factory, a store or the whole world. Moving into the idea of worship is no more difficult to understand than embracing the idea of honoring one’s master and provider as a matter of respect, in humble and ardent gratitude for benefits bestowed.
The Bible exhorts that God-followers do all things as unto the Lord (Col 3:23). We honor God by how we serve His aims in following His commands. Just and righteous works are acts of worship. In undertaking our work as worship, the holiness of God will manifest in our daily lives, witnessing Christ’s glory in the marketplace and the home.
Interestingly, God did not command Adam to work and keep the Garden. To work and keep it was simply part of the DNA of being human, of our function and purpose in the universe. Our work is part of the design of creation and disseminates the redemptive grace of God in the marketplace. How we anticipate the marketplace as an ordained institution in God’s created moral order, and act accordingly in all we do, helps clarify the sacred nature of our commercial endeavors.